Wimbledon tennis, buses and the elusive open topped bus
Every summer – World Cup or not – crowds and crowds of people descend upon a corner of South West London to go and eat strawberries and cream whilst watching some people hit a ball over a net.
Not being a tennis fan I’ve never bothered to go and watch it all happen, especially as there’s a far more interesting operation going on a bit closer to my home.
Dealing with thousands of visitors are fleets of buses which descend on the area to provide a myriad of services including shuttle buses and park and ride schemes. Arriving by train into Wimbledon train station, anyone off to visit the tennis is quickly syphoned off into a tennis bus queue faster than you can ask “Can I use my Travelcard card on this?” Before the punter knows it, they’re purchasing their £4.50 return ticket and are on their way. Wimbledon Town Centre is gone in but a blink of an eye. At least it is when the bus has traversed the one way system.
The whole thing is like a tightly controlled military operation designed to keep the tennis tourists both out of the already congested town centre, and as far away from the busy locals buses as possible.
Every single spare bus owned by London General buses seems to be pressed into service and the town centre becomes filled with a motley collection of middle aged double deckers. However the Wimbledon shuttle and park and ride is only part of the picture as the company also operates services from nearby Southfields tube and even from Marble Arch.
The company presses in buses from across the South East, from sister companies to independents, leading to the sight of yellow or cream buses plying their trade.
And then it raids its “special” fleet, resulting in Routemasters parking upside ready to go – two weeks a year, the iconic open backed buses ply their trade around Wimbledon, making it very tempting to hop on and ride and admire Wimbledon Common from the top deck.
And on a nice day, when the sun is really shinning, something truly wonderful can be seen on the streets. As the locals board their glass lined sweat box double deckers, they can only look on in envy as happy spectators sit with the wind going through their hair on the open topped buses normally reserved for the London By Night tour service.
I’ve always had a thing for open topped buses – a belief that there’s no finer way to travel on a hot summers day. They always remind me of those days leaving West Hill school in the afternoon and running for the bus to Ashton.
Local company GM Buses had three open topped buses in its fleet. Normally they’d sit in the depots unless called upon to ferry a football team around on a celebratory tour. However if the weather was right and the buses were idle, some bright spark would send them out to ply their trade on normal bus routes. The 219 going past my school seemed to be a regular haunt of the mighty sans-roof bus.
However what the bus man giveth, the bus man taketh away. Someone was clearly a very cruel and evil man. For without fail the 219 would be scheduled to drive past the gates of West Hill School barely 1 minute too early to miss the post-school rush. Only those whose teachers had been extremely generous and who had allowed the class to leave a few minutes early ever caught that bus. The rest of us could only watch in torment as it sailed away from the bus stop whilst we were trying to get aboard.
Not once did I ever manage to get on board an open top bus as a school kid… Not once. And I’m still bitter about it to this day.